Last Friday, IT staff at Victoria University of Wellington began a maintenance process to reclaim space on the university’s network, in theory by deleting the profiles of students who are no longer attending university. Unfortunately, the real impact was much greater, affecting students, faculty and staff across the university.
The Critic – student magazine of the Otago University Students’ Association – reported quite thoroughly on the matter this Wednesday, albeit from a non-IT perspective. It sounds like an overzealous Active Directory policy has gone out the door: The university’s Digital Solutions department (what most places would call information technology or IT) stated that files stored on the university’s network drives or on the OneDrive cloud storage from Microsoft, were “fully protected”.
One graduate reported that not only “files on the desktop were gone”, but “my entire computer was also reset”, which would be consistent with an AD operation that completely deletes her user profile from the computer – in such a case, a user would be able to login to the PC, but in a completely “clean” profile that looked brand new.
The same student reported hearing that some PhD students lost a year’s worth of data, stored only on their local computers and erased due to the faulty maintenance procedure. For those Aryans who don’t work in IT themselves, here’s a lesson: be careful where and how you store your data.
It’s unclear whether the university accidentally deleted users’ files on its network drives, but even if it did, there’s a very strong, reasonable expectation that those drives will be backed up regularly and completely. There’s no such expectation for the local drive on a user’s PC or laptop – if the only place you’ve saved is your own C: drive, that’s almost certainly the only place it exists.
For routine data, it is enough to understand company policies about what is or is not backed up and store your data accordingly. For items of great personal importance, such as a PhD student’s dissertation, it is unwise to rely entirely on the IT department to secure the data in the first place. There is no substitute for taking responsibility for your own data and keeping regular, tested backups of your own.